September 27, 2010 / 3:01 PM / 8 years ago

Comedies off to strong start as TV season begins

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - If the opening of the fall TV season has proved one thing so far, it’s that comedy has reclaimed the broadcast throne.

Cast members Matthew Morrison (L) and John Stamos smile at the premiere of the second season of the television series "Glee" at Paramount studios in Los Angeles September 7, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

After the genre made promising gains last season with the launch of game-changers “Modern Family” and “Glee,” this year’s first couple of weeks of premieres are forming a pattern: popular comedies are returning to steady or better ratings than last year, and top dramas are coming back to lower numbers — sometimes, a lot lower.

Of the seven highest-rated premieres so far, five were comedies. There was Fox’s “Glee” (5.6 rating in the adults 18-49 demographic, up 60%; each ratings point in that demo equals about 1.3 million viewers), ABC’s “Modern Family” (5.1, up 21%), NBC’s “The Office” (4.4, up 7%), “CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” (4.9, up 4%) and “Two and a Half Men” (4.9, up 10%).

Of the two other top premieres, one was a drama (ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy”; 5.4, down 21%) and the other was a reality show (ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars”; 5.1, up 24%).

The “Grey’s” slump was not without company. Part of the issue is the oft-reported observation that many of TV’s dramas are a bit long in the tooth. Veteran series “House” (4.2) was down 37%, “CSI” (3.4) — despite a guest appearance by Justin Bieber — fell 17%, and “NCIS” (4.0) was down 17%.

Ratings for new shows followed a predictable bell-curve pattern of a couple delivering truly impressive opens, several performing solidly and a handful that blew up at the starting gate.

“Everybody has something to feel good about,” CBS scheduling chief Kelly Kahl said.

Especially CBS, which is off to a great start. On Monday, “Hawaii Five-0” (3.9) didn’t create quite the splash that many expected, though its rating is formidable, and freshman “Mike & Molly” (3.9) managed to be the second-highest-rated comedy in the network’s block. Tuesday legal drama “The Defenders” (2.9) wasn’t spectacular but didn’t embarrass either. Thursday’s “$#*! My Dad Says” (4.0) opened terrific. And on Friday, despite rumors of a troubled production, “Blue Bloods” (2.2) performed solidly in a tough time period and even won the night.

“All our new shows so far have at least gotten off the ground and look to have every opportunity to succeed,” Kahl said.

Much has been made of CBS’ bold scheduling shakeup for fall. And although at least one move clearly has paid off — “Survivor” (4.0) is rocking its new Wednesday time period — the jury is still out on the others. The network’s comedies went big on Thursday for their first week, though whether the critically panned “$#*!” will maintain its numbers is a question. “Hawaii” was below “CSI: Miami” in its time period, and on Friday, “CSI: NY” drew a tad less than “Medium” at the post last year.

NBC has enjoyed a couple positive headlines. Monday’s mystery thriller “The Event” (3.6) had a head-turning opening for the network in a competitive time period, and insiders hope audiences stick around for the next couple episodes, which critics say improve creatively on the pilot. At 10 p.m., action-thriller “Chase” (2.3) wasn’t able to catch up with competitors. New spy dramedy “Undercovers” (2.1) underwhelmed, and Friday’s Jimmy Smits legal drama “Outlaw” (1.1) looks DOA against “Blue Bloods.”

“It’s still the top of the first inning, but I’m happy with our start,” NBC scheduling head Mitch Metcalf said. “We’ve set out what we planned to do, and that’s to patiently hour-by-hour lay the foundation for a long-term turnaround.

Many expected NBC’s “Community” (2.2) to get crushed by “Big Bang” on Thursdays, but the comedy delivered a typical number.

“They’re different types of comedies,” Metcalf said. “It’s not an election where the winner takes all.”

Thursday’s new comedy “Outsourced” (3.6) was impressive. But the return to a civilian version of “The Apprentice” (1.4) is not doing the network any favors on the night.

With “Glee,” Fox is able to tout last week’s highest-rated show. The rest of the network’s news is mixed. Critically well-liked comedy “Raising Hope” (3.1) launched fine, though there was a worrisome step down to “Running Wilde” (2.4). The network’s freshman tentpole “Lone Star” (1.3) had such as spectacularly dismal premiere that it spawned a slew of stories debating its fate and prompted creator Kyle Killen to write an open letter to fans to rally support.

“We’ve seen several episodes of ‘Raising Hope’ and we think we have a show there,” Fox’s scheduling chief Preston Beckman said.

ABC is pacing to land in second place for the week but had a couple misfires. Arguably its best bet, “No Ordinary Family,” doesn’t bow until Tuesday. “Dancing” and “Modern Family” dominated their respective nights, with the network’s Wednesday comedy block generating solid numbers. “The Middle” (2.7) showed particular spunk leading off the night and represents another comedy that returned to improved ratings. The debut of “Better With You” (2.5) was very OK.

There might be trouble among the network’s other new shows, though. Tuesday’s “Detroit 1-8-7” (2.3) underperformed, but the cop show looks towering when stacked next to Wednesday’s legal drama “The Whole Truth” (1.5) and Thursday’s “My Generation” (1.6), which join “Lone Star” and “Outlaw” on the shortlist of insta-bubble shows.

“More than ever, you have a lot of time periods where you have two (or) three shows actually doing well,” ABC’s scheduling chief Jeff Bader said. “Some shows launching are not getting sampled because there’s so much going on.”

Neither of the CW’s freshman shows is blowing viewers’ skirts up like last year’s “The Vampire Diaries” (1.6), which continued to perform strongly. Wednesday’s “Hellcats” (1.0) and Thursday’s “Nikita” (1.1) are slipping from their lead-ins, though “Nikita” ranks as the network’s second-most-watched show among total viewers. More urgently worrisome is the return of low-show-on-the-totem “Life Unexpected” (0.7). One bright spot: Friday’s premieres of the final season of “Smallville” (1.3) and “Supernatural” (1.3) landed the network a rare bronze medal for the night.

All of the networks had a win or two to call their own, through broadcast overall continues to erode as DVR penetration increased 15% over last fall. Through the first four days of the season, the five broadcast networks were once again down a collective average of 9%. As DVR data come into play during the next few weeks, there’s sure to be more headlines about record-setting numbers that demonstrate how many viewers didn’t watch these shows the same night they aired.

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